*Pardo Bazán, Emilia
Pardo Bazán, Emilia
Emilia Pardo Bazán was an extremely prolific writer, with almost two dozen novels and hundreds of short stories to her credit. Her writing career spans several literary periods, including realism, naturalism, and Spanish Modernism, and her work reflects the changing values and literary styles of late 19th- and early 20th-century Spain. In addition to her narrative production, she also cultivated biography and various forms of the essay, including literary criticism, travel literature, social commentary, and critique. The leading Spanish feminist of the 19th century and one of the most important women writers of all of Spanish literature, she is a polemical figure who enjoyed the limelight but also exhibited the anxiety that typifies many women writers of the period as they test the limits of traditional patriarchal society. In a Spain that lagged behind the rest of Europe in industrial and social modernization, Pardo Bazán’s feminist writings and her active participation in international feminist congresses and campaigns created considerable opposition and required the elaboration of a complex public persona in order to counter public disapproval and condemnation. Her novels and essays display a dual rhythm of rebellion and submission, but under the guise of acquiescence there can usually be found a dissonant or ambiguous voice that allows for an alternative and more defiant reading.
Nineteenth-century writers as well as many contemporary critics classify Pardo Bazán as a conservative, Catholic writer and approach her essays from this perspective. Pardo Bazán clearly encouraged such a view at different times in her writing career, invoking her Catholic faith and traditional Spanish values as a shield against accusations of radicalism. However, her defense of free will, her repudiation of determinist philosophies, and her invocations of nationalist or class privilege also reflect a feminist impulse and a desire to liberate women from essentialist definitions and reformulations of female inferiority under the guise of Darwinism and biological determinism. This doublevoicing begins as early as 1877 in her “Reflexiones científicas contra el darwinismo” (Scientific reflections against Darwinism) and continues in her later essays and her literary criticism.
Pardo Bazán’s much-cited La cuestión palpitante (The burning question), which originally appeared as a series of articles between 1881 and 1883 in La Época and then as a book in 1883, studies the naturalist movement initiated by Émile Zola in France and offers a moderate defense of the movement as it evolved in Spain. Critics have generally studied the ensuing polemic as an exclusively literary event; however, Pardo Bazán’s text represents much more than a cautious acceptance of literary naturalism and exerts an important influence on questions of art and literature as well as on broader issues of social and political transformation. The text exploits the discursive complexity of essay writing, inserting multiple and often contradictory voices and interweaving them in order to give expression to silenced or muted social and political issues that underpin the debate on literary naturalism. These include the fear of social and sexual revolution and the connections between these two 19th-century phenomena.
The presence of a female speaker in a national polemic in itself altered the terms of the debate and brought to the foreground issues of female access to public space, female sexuality, and radical social transformation, all of which had been avoided assiduously by writers in the period following the First Spanish Republic (1873–74). La cuestión palpitante provoked numerous responses among Spanish writers on the left and the right, as male writers struggled with their own and their readers’ fears of a breakdown of the established social and sexual order. In this and all of her essays, Pardo Bazán employs a number of strategies to deflect anticipated criticism and opposition to a female speaker.
She makes abundant use of quotations drawn from male writers and canonical works to enhance her authority, adopts an epistolary or fictional form to minimize the effect of a single speaker, or attempts to efface her personality and sexuality through the use of scientific and historical discourse.
Many of Pardo Bazán’s better-known essays deal directly with topics of female emancipation, as in “La mujer española” (1907; The Spanish woman), “La educación del hombre y la de la mujer” (1892; The education of men and of women), “Del amor y la amistad” (1892; On love and friendship), and “La cuestión académica” (1891; The question of the Academy). In these texts the complex tension between the establishment of an authoritative textual voice and deference to the authority of the reader becomes even more acute as the female speaker, more or less disguised behind an impersonal narrator, attempts to move the primarily male reader to an acceptance of malefemale equality. Like all essayists, Pardo Bazán makes use of contemporary discourse but also seeks to channel it in new directions and reveal its inconsistencies. The essays that argue for women’s rights invoke 19th-century liberal values and language with frequent allusions to human rights, to a belief in the individual capacity for improvement, and to the value of scientific discovery. However, they also seek to deconstruct these discourses and expose the irrational fears that undergird contemporary definitions of women.
Through a continual interweaving of multiple and contradictory voices and discourses drawn from 19th-century Spanish and European culture and the introduction of a new female voice that interjects irony, mockery, exaggeration, and other dissonant perspectives, Pardo Bazán moves the late 19th-century Spanish essay toward a new and more modern form.
MARY LEE BRETZ
Born 16 September 1851 in La Coruña, Galicia. Self-educated. Married José Quiroga, 1868 (separated, 1885): two daughters and one son. Traveled to Paris, London, Italy, and Austria, 1871–72; moved to Madrid, 1886, where she frequented court and artistic circles and opened her own salon. Contributor to various periodicals, including La Ciencia Cristiana (The Christian science), 1876–81, La Revista Compostelana (The review of Compostela), 1876–77, La Época, from 1881, La Ilustración Artística (The artistic illustration), from 1886, El Imparcial, 1887–1920, España Moderna, 1889–90, Blanco y Negro (Black and white), 1895–1920, La Lectura, 1901–05, La Ilustración Española, from 1908, La Esfera (The sphere), from 1910, Los Contemporáneos, from 1914, Raza Española (The Spanish race), 1919–21, and ABC; founding editor, El Nuevo Teatro Crítico (The new critical theater), 1891–93. First female president, literary section of the Atheneum, Madrid, 1906. Made countess, 1908. Advisor to the Ministry of Education, 1910. Professor of Romance literature, University of Madrid, 1916. Founder, Women’s Library. Died in Madrid, 12 May 1921.
Essays and Related Prose
La cuestión palpitante, 1883; edited by Carmen Bravo-Villasante, 1966, and José Manuel González Herrán, 1988
De mi tierra, 1888
Mi romería, 1888
Al pie de la Torre Eiffel, 1889
Los poetas épicos cristianos, 1894
Cuarenta días en la exposición, 1901
Por la Europa católica, 1902
De siglo a siglo, 1902
El lirismo en la poesía francesa (lectures), 1926
La mujer española y otros artículos feministas, edited by Leda Schiavo, 1976
Crónicas en “La Nacion” de Buenos Aires (1909–1921), edited by Cyrus DeCoster, 1994
Other writings: 19 novels (including Los pazos de Ulloa [The House of Ulloa], 1886;
La madre naturaleza, 1887; Una cristiana [A Christian Woman], 1890; La quimera,
1905; La sirena negra, 1908; Dulce dueño, 1911), short stories, plays, and works on literary criticism and history.
Collected works editions: Obras completas, 43 vols., 1891–1926, and edited by Federico Carlos Sainz de Robles, 3 vols., 1964.
Clémessy, Nelly, Emilia Pardo Bazán como novelista, vol. 2 , Madrid: Fundación Universitaria Española, 1982,:831–922
Scari, Robert M., Bibliografía descriptiva de estudios criticos sobre la obra de Emilio Pardo Bazán, Valencia: Albatros/Hispanófila, 1982
Bravo-Villasante, Carmen, Vida y obra de Emilia Pardo Bazán, Madrid: Revista de Occidente, 1962
Bretz, Mary Lee, Voices, Silences and Echoes: A Theory of the Essay and the Critical Reception of Naturalism in Spain, London: Tamesis, 1992
Clémessy, Nelly, Emilia Pardo Bazán como novelista, Madrid: Fundación Universitaria Española, 2, vols., 1982.
El Saffar, Ruth, “Emilia Pardo Bazán,” in Spanish Women Writers: A Bio-
Bibliographical Source Book, edited by Linda Gould Levine, Ellen Engelson Marson, and Gloria Feiman Waldman, Westport, Connecticut: Greenwood Press, 1993:378–88
Lissorgues, Yvan, editor, Realismo y naturalismo en España en la segunda mitad del siglo XIX, Barcelona: Anthropos, 1988
Pattison, Walter, El naturalismo español, Madrid: Gredos, 1969
Pattison, Walter, Emilia Pardo Bazán, New York: Twayne, 1971
Torre, Guillermo de, Del 98 al barroco, Madrid: Gredos, 1965
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